- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

The Washington Redskins end their preseason tonight wondering if they're on the verge of duplicating the title run of the visiting New England Patriots.
The Patriots went from 5-11 in 2000 to Super Bowl champions last season, continuing a recent pattern of non-playoff teams emerging as one-year wonders. Parity in the NFL gives almost any team a championship chance, and New England pulled three postseason upsets en route to the title.
After a 4-0 preseason start, the Redskins seem ready for their first postseason run since 1999 and second since coach Joe Gibbs departed in 1993. After beating expected playoff contenders San Francisco (38-7), Pittsburgh (35-34) and Tampa Bay (40-10), plus Carolina (37-30), Washington gets one final litmus test against the defending champion Patriots (2-1) at FedEx Field.
"I see a lot of them in ourselves," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "There's a lot of new people around us, and everybody has high expectations. Determination is what it takes to win the Super Bowl, and I think we have it."
It's also the final test for 15 players who must be released by Sunday as the Redskins trim to an NFL-mandatory 53 players. Washington has a handful of close battles for backup jobs, and coach Steve Spurrier said their play against New England could make the difference for some hopefuls.
Quarterback Danny Wuerffel probably needs a respectable performance against New England to seal the starting job against Arizona in the regular-season opener on Sept.8. The five-year veteran remembers a time when he needed to play well in a preseason finale just to make the cut.
Most of the Redskins' starters will depart after the first quarter, but Wuerffel said the extended time for reserves won't ease the pressure.
"You just try to forget it and compete," he said.
Wuerffel is in a close competition with Shane Matthews. After missing the Tampa Bay game on Saturday because of the flu, Wuerffel has played only one quarter against opposing starters. Still, his 117.4 passing rating leads NFC quarterbacks in the preseason, and Washington boasts the No.1 passing offense and No.2 overall. Matthews also has played well during two starts with an 82.0 rating despite four interceptions.
The Redskins also are trying to decide their receiver rotation behind Rod Gardner. Derrius Thompson will start for the second straight week, though he had few chances and no receptions against Tampa Bay on Saturday. Chris Doering and Jacquez Green also have chances to earn a starting job.
Guard Brenden Stai will makes his Redskins debut after being acquired in a trade with Detroit on Aug.22. The offensive line continues to shuffle, with Ross Tucker moving to left guard and Stai starting on the right side. Alex Sulfsted is at left tackle because of injuries to Chris Samuels and Rod Jones, though Sulfsted isn't even assured a roster spot.
On special teams, both returners and a kicker have yet to be chosen. Green appears to have the edge over cornerback Champ Bailey as punt returner; the Redskins will work running backs Kenny Watson, Robert Gillespie and Ladell Betts as kick returner. Watson and Gillespie may even be competing for a roster spot if the team keeps only five running backs.
Kicker Brett Conway (groin) will miss his third straight preseason game but is expected back against Arizona. However, the Redskins will keep James Tuthill if Conway doesn't appear ready for the opener. Tuthill needs a steady performance against New England to keep Washington from considering another kicker.
The Redskins appear set defensively, though linebacker LaVar Arrington's status for today's game won't be decided until pregame warmups. Arrington missed practice Tuesday with a sore hamstring and bruised knee. At most, he only will play a few series tonight. Defensive tackle Daryl Gardener will miss his third game with back problems, but cornerback Darrell Green should return after a sore neck sidelined him against Tampa Bay.

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